For over twenty years, the Oakland Zoo’s summer day camp has built strong connections between children and wild animals, but two years ago, we decided to go deeper.
Every year we put a different zoo resident on our camp t-shirts. Usually it’s a new animal or someone who got a new exhibit, but in 2008 I was stumped for what to choose and opened a contest for zoo staff. Keeper Julie Hartell-Denardo nominated our Cotton-Topped Tamarins with a very convincing “Top Ten” list of why tamarins were awesome. On her list was Proyecto Titi, the conservation project working to save Cotton Tops and their habitat in Colombia.
Her list made an obvious suggestion—why not deepen ZooCamp’s commitment to conservation education by supporting an in situ project ? Reaching out to Proyecto Titi was easy, because the Oakland Zoo Conservation Fund has given small grants to the organization for many years. We raised camp fees by $1 and designated those funds as a donation to the project. We raised awareness for the project by putting their logo on the back of our camp shirts and created “Titi Time”, a 45 minute multi-media presentation about Cotton Topped Tamarins and Proyecto Titi (at camp, this took the form of a slideshow and skit, complete with instructors in the roles of both researchers and tamarins!)
One long standing camp tradition has been to send kids home with a “gift” on Friday afternoons. To further support Proyecto Titi, we bought friendship bracelets from Asoartesanas, a womens artisan co-op created in Colombia by Proyecto Titi. These entrepreneurial women take the plastic bags that were litter, wash and shred them, then crochet the plastic strands into colorful and functional bags called “Eco-Mochilas.” For ZooCamp, they created bracelets emblazoned with “Titi”!
Our first summer conservation partnership was a huge success. We felt that the 1200+ children who attended ZooCamp made a deep and meaningful connection to a conservation project, and Proyecto Titi received $1400 from ZooCamp!
In 2009, we were excited to continue this new tradition and selected the Hornbill Research Foundation of Thailand as our partner. With our own Wreathed Hornbills on the front of the t-shirt, we put the HRF logo on the back, again we donated $1 per camper and had “Hornbill Hour”. In addition the teen eco-trip traveled to Thailand and got to visit Pilai Poonswad, premiere hornbill researcher, in person!
In an effort to increase our donation, we created an incentive program. For a $3 donation, campers received a “golden” coin featuring our ZooCamp t-shirt design and the zoo’s logo. This proved highly successful, with an astounding 70% participation rate. In the end, we raised $3000 for HRF!
Even though it’s a summer program, running ZooCamp really is a year-round job. We are already deep into planning for ZooCamp 2010, and ARCAS has already agreed to be our conservation partner!
Who will grace our shirt this year? Think of the largest resident of the RAD Room and you’ve got the answer!
Learn more about ZooCamp 2010 at our website! Registration for ZooCamp 2010 begins for Zoo Members on 3/15; on 3/22, registration for Non-Members begins.